London’s Country Music Announcement Hits All the Right Notes

By Jason Menard

This is likely the only time I’ll write about country music. While there are a few songs I enjoy, it’s not my genre of choice. Yet, I’ll fully admit to being excited about today’s announcement that the 2016 Canadian Country Music Association Awards and Country Music Week will be hosted by the Forest City.

I’m excited by both the short and long-term benefits of the event. And that excitement is based on precedent.

And I’m looking at Cher.

Now, those of you who know me well, know my aversion to Cher. But I am fully appreciative that today’s Budweiser Gardens is partially built upon the success of her first performance at the venue in 2002. At that moment, it didn’t matter if you were a fan or not, the then-John Labatt Centre came of age as a musical venue.

So why should this CCMA be any different? People who cast aside the event as “no big deal” are missing the bigger picture.

Success begets success.

This city and its venue are only as good as their last events. London’s original Memorial Cup led to the Canadian Skating Championships, and Brier. Those events led to London hitting the global stage with the World Figure Skating Championships. It’s safe to say the venue is known for sports.

Cher led to Cirque de Soleil’s first arena show, which led to Elton John. And the fact that both acts the stature of those global icons and more modest performances like Blue Rodeo and Hedley can happily co-exist at the Budweiser Gardens shows that the venue is known for performances.

Now, with the Canadian Country Music Awards (whose broadcast, according to the documentation provided, reaches three million people), London and the Budweiser Gardens can prove they can handle this type of production. And that may make a bid for the Geminis or Junos possible in the future. Again, according to CCMA information, Country Music Week traditionally has an economic impact of $6 to $8 million dollars.

While I’m always skeptical about economic impact numbers, the fact of the matter is that in the short term, we will have a week-long celebration of music that will be attended by Londoners and music fans and tourists. And even if the city only broke even, the event would be worth it from the long-term residual impact in future events.

What I also like about this announcement is that it shows there are people out there who get it. London has some amazing strengths and instead of lamenting what we’re not, it shows that we have a niche that can be well exploited. Are we punching above our weight class? Maybe a little — but there are lots of light heavyweights who have succeeded in the heavyweight division.

This isn’t a flyweight getting into the ring with a super heavyweight. It is not taking a flyer on a Performing Arts Centre, with dreams of stealing away tourists from Toronto and Stratford with no real proof of an existing long-term sustainable market. It’s a championship-level facility and supporting venues comfortably and effectively stepping into the ring with over a decade’s worth of experience — and the know-how to put on a great show.

This show won’t just be watched by country fans. It will be watched by those in other industries, with other opportunities, who will be very interested in how London fares hosting an event of this nature. And if they like what they see, then London becomes a player in more — and more varied — types of games.

Whether you like country or not, that type of opportunity should be music to everyone’s ears.

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